Abenaki Storytellers at Brattleboro’s Retreat Farm

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As part of  this year’s Brattleboro Winter Carnival celebration, the newly-minted non-profit Retreat Farm‘s Open Barn schedule includes two sessions with Abenaki storytellers. Stop in to join Willow Greene on Friday and Roger Longtoe Sheehan on Saturday for the winter tradition of storytelling, along with other opportunities hosted by the Farm.

Friday, February 24
Noon – 4:00
Open Barn Preview
Bonfire (with food!*)
Children’s activities & animals
2:00 Abenaki storyteller Willow Greene

Saturday, February 25
Noon – 4:00
Open Barn Preview
Bonfire (with food!*)
Children’s activities & familiar animals
2:00 Abenaki storyteller Roger Longtoe Sheehan, Chief of the ELNU Abenaki tribe

Pending VT Yankee Sale to NY Firm, Brattleboro Coalition Ponders Steps

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The New England Coalition has spent decades raising issues before the Vermont Public Service Board about the operation, sale, uprate and relicensing of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power station.

Now that the plant — permanently shut down two years ago by Entergy Nuclear — could be sold to a New York City industrial demolition company, the coalition said recently it has yet to make up its mind about whether to take an adversarial role again.

Clay Turnbull, a staff member of the Brattleboro nonprofit organization, said last week the coalition was reviewing the trove of documents that Entergy Nuclear and the potential new owner, NorthStar Group Services Inc., filed about the sale and the ultimate decommissioning of Vermont Yankee.

Read the full story by Susan Smallheer of the Rutland Herald.

East To Monadnock

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From the peak of Bedegwajo/Round Mountain in West Brattleboro, VT, a line of sight running 27 miles due east to Menonadenak/Menadenak/Monadnock in New Hampshire crosses directly over the ridge of Wantastegok Wajo/Mt. Wantastiquet, on the east bank of the Kwanitekw/Connecticut River.

round-mt-to-wantastiquet

T8ni Kizos Wazwasa – Winter Solstice

Terraced lines shine silver,
Layers upon the cross-hatched riverbanks
Threads of smoke rise still and silent from domed shelters
No dog barks at the half moon.

Long night gone in the morning chill,
Slow light gleams at eastward door
Sun comes returning, scarce recognized
But met with quiet welcome.

A long time we will go
A long time ’til we know
A long time still to grow
Along time, ever so.

***

Among the Abenaki people, the winter solstice is the beginning of the new year. As elder Elie Joubert has told us, this time is known as Peboniwi, t8ni kizos wazwasa – In winter, when the sun returns to the same place.

The custom is to begin the new year by offering these words:
Anhaldamawi kasi palilawalian – Forgive any wrong I may have done to you.

N’wikodo io mina, liwlaldamana – I ask this as well, please.

In the Name of Enlightenment and Progress: Dark Days in Sokwakik

The latest podcast from Brattleboro Historical Society, with Joe Rivers and his BAMS history students. It gives some good background to the subsuming of critical areas in Sokwakik, and the mid-Kwanitekw valley in general, by the construction of the Vernon, Vermont hydroelectric dam early in the last century. Many acres of riverside land were condemned to be flooded in the name of progress, the first project of its kind in the region, with many more to follow. This was a for-profit venture by a group of both local and regional businessmen, to generate power for distant markets at the expense of everything else. Sokoki Abenaki heritage and interests, being a riverine-centric culture, were ignored and ravaged, a situation which remains ongoing and challenging. The resulting impoundment was later accessed and the land further degraded by the construction of the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant immediately upstream of the dam itself.

Sokwakik Now: Vernon Eyes Data Center for VT Yankee Site

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Could rows of quietly whirring computers replace Vermont Yankee? Seeking long-term options for the former nuclear plant property, Vernon Planning Commission is looking into the possibility that a technology company could build a data center – sometimes called a “server farm” – at the site.

Commission members were buoyed Wednesday night by Matt Dunne, a former Google executive with experience in siting data centers. Dunne said he believes the Yankee property has many key assets for such a development including land, water and access to large quantities of reliable power.

“It’s difficult to find the land and the kind of infrastructure that you happen to have here,” Dunne said. “It is a unique site.”

Officials said they would explore the idea further. “This, to me, is the most exciting thing for Vernon right now out of everything we’ve discussed,” Planning Commission member Patty O’Donnell said.

Full story by Mike Faher at VTdigger.org

Another version in the Greenfield Recorder

***

Observations: Matt Dunne mused that this is a unique site; he may have no idea of the deeper significance of his statement. The land immediately adjacent to the Great Bend of the Kwanitekw, on both sides of the river – in Vernon, VT to the west and Hinsdale, NH to the east, but especially on the Vermont side – is highly sensitive to the Sokwakiak Abenaki and their ancestors. Adjacent to a highly favored [former] fishing place at the rapids now subsumed by the Vernon hydroelectric dam, the level terraces would have hosted the shelters, fish processing stations, food storage, celebratory and ceremonial areas, and other supporting functions needed for any sizeable, extended gathering of people. The popularity of the location amongst the region’s indigenous dwellers is documented in the historical literature, although scantily, in common with most of the area at the time of contact and immediately thereafter. It is likely there are multiple cultural sites of both a permanent and transient nature, constructed and occupied over thousands of years, and home to many hundreds of occupants, much less their final resting places purposefully chosen close by a beneficient and sacred gathering place.

Beside historical settler uses for agriculture, mills, logging, residences, and mineral extraction over the past 275 years, the very same area has been heavily compromised by the construction and operation of two electric generating plants. The aforementioned Vernon Hydroelectric dam and power station, currently owned by TransCanada, and the recently-shuttered Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant, owned by Entergy Corp. – both utilizing the 26-mile impoundment of the Kwanitekw/Connecticut River – have been sited directly atop this sensitive area. As an aside, it is a patently obvious correlation that nearly all of the most noteworthy locations up and down the Valley (in terms of advantageous siting and “resources’), now heavily developed by modern industry and their attendant settlements, were chosen as a direct observation that they had already been recognized as such by the preceding indigenous populations.

These two industrial installations, although under the purview of Federal as well as many other state and local agencies, have never had comprehensive cultural assessments performed at their sites. There was little to no sensitivity for these attributes of this naturewhen the power facilities were initially sited in the early to late mid-twentieth century; although that regulatory environment has changed, awareness and responsibility have not progressed as far. There have been several smaller-scope studies completed in the course of more recent operational amendments, but these have been dismissive, incomplete, or cursory at best. A simple review of newspaper accounts from the past two centuries reveals many accounts of human remains and cultural “artifacts” recovered in the immediate vicinity. While there are a very few documented, professionally-managed archaeological sites in the record, there was also a plethora of amateur digging and collecting over the last 150 years, when such activities were quite popular and the whereabouts of such sites was much more common knowledge. The names of Walter Needham, Jason Bushnell, and Gerald Coane come to mind.

This grave omission should not stand unacknowledged and unaddressed. There are several projects and/or processes currently underway, or imminent, that will once again open these ancient and still hurtful wounds. Today’s agencies of oversight operate under a somewhat more enlightened set of responsibilities, not the least of which is inclusivity of indigenous tribal concerns, along with both human and environmental rights in general.  It is hoped that the dialogue will expand to truly reflect many more voices going forward. This blog will be sharing these stories and viewpoints as they manifest. The Old Ones are here with us in this land.

N’mikwalm8nowak – we remember them.

Askwa iodali n’daoldibna – we are still here.

 

FirstLight’s River Erosion Study for FERC Relicensure Contested

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The Franklin Regional Planning Board and the Connecticut River Streambank Erosion Committee have responded formally to a study that largely clears Northfield Mountain pumped storage project of blame for river bank erosion. The response to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission about FirstLight’s operation of the hydroelectric project criticizes the methodology used and arguments made in the study, which was submitted in September. The study is part of a relicensing application for hydroelectric plants along the river.

That study concludes that the hydroelectric facility is responsible for only 4 percent of the erosion caused along the banks in the 20-mile river segment between the Turners Falls and Vernon, Vt. dams. “Despite this extensive scientific literature, FirstLight claims that most of the erosion in the Turners Falls Impoundment (TFI) is due to the ‘natural’ erosion that happens during high flows in an undammed, unregulated river. FirstLight goes so far as to draw comparisons between the erosion in the TFI and erosion seen in ‘natural alluvial’ rivers in Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks.”

Full story by Richie Davis in the Greenfield Recorder.

***

Observations: The combined operational impacts of the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage and the Turners Falls Hydroelectric Projects, utilizing what is known as the Turners Falls Impoundment (TFI) on the Kwanitekw/Connecticut River, contributes to the accelerated erosion of the banks for 20 miles. Effects upon this entire stretch of the river are highly sensitive for the Sokwakiak Abenaki people and their ancestors; it is the heart of the lower Sokoki homelands, today’s Northfield, MA being the derivative of the Native settlement known to the British settlers as Squakheag. Both sides of the Kwanitekw – from the site of the Vernon dam south to the corresponding Turners Falls structure – were occupied for millennia before the arrival of the Europeans (as well as areas further north, above the TFI). The landscape remains sacred to the People, a part of the collective cultural consciousness, with sacred sites, stone structures, burials, and long-established relationships embodied within the land and water. The constant raising and lowering of the river’s surface level due to daily operations of the Projects, unlike a natural alluvial river system, is accelerating the destruction and loss of this ancient homeland, and compromising the relationships necessary for the community’s vitality.